Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Interview with Commonwealth Prize Regional Winner - Tracy Fells

Today, I welcome back to my blog my good writing friend, and competition queen, Tracy Fells. The reason I've brought her back is because she's just had a momentous win - regional finalist of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize no less! It's an occasion that cannot be left unmarked so I thought you might like to hear more about her winning entry and Tracy's route to competition success.

First of all, congratulations on being regional winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Can you tell us a little more about the competition?

Thank you, Wendy! The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is run annually and is FREE to enter so it really is worth entering. However, you can only enter if you can demonstrate you are a national of one of the Commonwealth countries (if you get shortlisted you do have to provide proof!). From the shortlist five regional winners are chosen and I was lucky enough to win for Canada & Europe region. The five winning stories are published – this year they are on Granta magazine’s website – and then an overall winner is chosen (£5,000 is the prize). The competition usually opens in September and closes early November – more details here: http://www.commonwealthwriters.org/

You’ve been writing (and winning) competitions for a while now. Was this your first attempt at this prize?

No, not at all. In fact this is the second year I’ve reached the shortlist (first back in 2014), so I was amazed to hear another story had done it again. Looking at my competition spreadsheet (yes, I’m that anal) I can see that this year was the sixth time I’ve entered, proving that persistence pays off!

Your story The Naming of Moths is a worthy winner (I should know as I’ve read it) how would you describe it?

Hmm, I know you would describe it as a typical Tracy Fells’ story, as it has a distinctive thread of magical realism. Its origins come from an ancient folk legend but I would describe it as a contemporary fairy tale and love story.

What gave you your inspiration for the story?

Get yourself a cup of tea as this make take some time … September 2013 I was holidaying with hubby in Swanage (south coast of England). On a blustery and wet coastal walk we took shelter in a cliff-side castle’s café. The walls of that café were covered in glass panels – etched into the glass were the names of hundreds and hundreds of moths. I now wish I’d taken a photo at the time. The names were incredibly varied, lyrical and many of them were beautiful and not scientific at all. This gave me the title of a short story: The Naming of Moths. Unfortunately, the rest of the story refused to emerge even though I knew it would focus on moths and their names. Fast forward to early January 2016 and I was itching to write a story bringing in Hebrew folk history. Some inspiration came from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and ‘Feet of Clay’ in particular. Other research came from watching episodes of Supernatural and The X-Files. Then I can’t really remember but suddenly the full story sort of appeared in my head and I was ready to write it. I wish I could share the process (so I could replicate it myself!) but I trust to my subconscious to join the dots together.

If interested there’s a video of me talking about the story up on the Commonwealth Writers website here: http://www.commonwealthwriters.org/cssp-2017/

How long did it take you to write?

Again, I have a spreadsheet to check as I record daily any word count and what I was working on. Therefore, I can tell you the first draft was written over two days: 30 – 31 March 2016. It was reviewed by my workshop group, then further edits and proofread by hubby. Though I confess this was a story that wrote itself (when I actually sat down to it) and took little editing time to clean up. Some stories – often the really successful ones – are like that.

Are you a planner or a pantster when it comes to your competition stories?

This is easy! I am a planner and proud of it. I plan everything I write and can’t even begin to start the writing process until the arc of the story is complete in my head.

It’s rude, I know, to discuss money but…. let’s discuss money! The Commonwealth Prize is a serious win – mind spilling the beans?

Okay, just because it’s you, Wendy. I’ve won £2,500, which is the biggest prize I’ve won to date. As mentioned above the overall winner receives £5,000, which is still to be announced.

The presentation is going to be held somewhere very exciting. Can you tell us about it?

All the regional winners are being flown to Singapore for the prize giving event on 30 June (to be held in The Arts House, which looks beautiful). We’re staying on for a weekend of writing Masterclasses with Jacob Ross, one of the judges. To be honest this trip feels like winning another prize!

What are you most looking forward to on your visit?

Meeting the other regional winners and just experiencing Singapore. I’ve never visited Singapore or this part of the world so just hoping to soak it all up and not wilt in the heat …

What next for Tracy Fells. More competitions or a larger project perhaps?

As a short story writer I will continue entering competitions as these are one of the best ways to get your work noticed. I’ve just finished a new story which I’m hoping to enter into the Brighton Short Story Prize. I will be writing more short stories and flash, because how could I stop! And I’m excited about a new project, a novel which I hope to begin after the summer. It will have magical realism and all the elements that signal a Tracy Fells’ story! Right now I’m in that thinking phase for the novel, so not ready to start writing …

You can read Tracy's winning story here

If you want to find out more about Tracy’s writing then she shares a blog with The Literary Pig http://tracyfells.blogspot.com. You can also follow her on Twitter: @theliterarypig.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Annie's Lovely Choir by the Sea - Guest Post Liz Eeles

I've said before how delighted I am to invite writing friends onto my blog to celebrate their successes and today is no exception. Author Liz Eeles lives very close to me on the South Coast and and we met through the RNA New Writers' Scheme. Last month Liz's debut romantic comedy, Annie's Lovely Choir by the Sea, was published by Bookouture and I thought it would be nice to find out more about Liz, her writing and her road to publication.

We’re in a lift. Sell me your novel before we reach the ground floor.

Romantic comedy Annie’s Lovely Choir by the Sea is Long Lost Family meets Poldark with a touch of Gareth Malone thrown in. City girl Annie struggles to adapt to life in a Cornish village with the great-aunt she’s only just met. Salt Bay is wet, windy and practically Wi-Fi-free and Annie is determined to escape – but then she learns of a local tragedy and resurrects the village choir in a bid to bring the community together.

Annie’s Lovely Choir by the Sea is set in Cornwall. Why this county?

I love Cornwall and it was the ideal location for Londoner Annie who feels like a fish out of water but gradually falls for the place and its people. I’m particularly fond of the Penzance area so that’s where I set the fictional village of Salt Bay. This necessitated a week-long holiday in Cornwall – for research purposes, obviously.

Do you base any of your characters on real people?

No, they’re all made-up though, in my head, handsome Cornish teacher Josh looks like a cross between Aidan Turner and Richard Armitage. A couple of people have said that Annie sometimes reminds them of me, which I’m taking as a compliment even though she’s rather sweary and has commitment issues.

How long did it take you to write the novel?

Not as long as my first novel, thank goodness, which took AGES because I kept faffing about with it. That book is now shut away in a drawer where it belongs. I was far more focused when it came to writing Annie’s Lovely Choir by the Sea and, in all, it took about a year from starting the first draft to having a completed version of the book that was published last month. 

Are you a pantster or do you plot?

Plot, definitely. Without a fairly tight framework, I write myself into a corner and end up banging my head on the desk. Having said that, there’s enough flexibility in my plot for storylines to develop unexpectedly as I write and sometimes head off at tangents. So maybe there’s a tad of pantsing mixed up in there.

Do you have a special time for writing? How is your day structured?

I probably should have a special time for writing each day but I’m horribly unstructured. My plan is to write in the morning but life gets in the way and I sometimes find myself notching up my word count at midnight. The only time I’m properly focused is when I’m on a tight deadline – then, I write all day until my eyes go blurry.

What did you find most difficult when writing your novel?

The most difficult thing was letting the novel go at the end, when it was written, edited and ready to be published. I always think it can be improved so doing a final read-through, accepting it was finished, and stepping back was painful. Even though I’m proud of the book and how well it’s doing, I can’t bear to read it now it’s published.

I know that you are in a choir yourself.  Can you tell me a little about it?

I’ve loved singing since joining my school choir and singing in Gloucester Cathedral – I went to an all-girls school and we got to sing with a local boys’ school which might explain my initial enthusiasm. Now I belong to a choir in my home town near Brighton and we sing everything from Mozart to Les Miserables. Choirs can bring communities together, as well as being great fun, and I wanted to get that across in my novel.

You secured a publishing deal with Bookouture without having an agent -  do you think that the role of a literary agent is as important as it once was?

As a debut author, I don’t feel I can answer that with any authority. All I know is that I’m doing ok without an agent, though I wouldn’t rule out trying to nab one in the future.

What next for Liz Eeles?

I’m very happy with Bookouture and have signed with them to write three books in the Salt Bay series. Right now, I’m working on a Christmas sequel to Annie’s Lovely Choir by the Sea which is due for publication around October time, with book three out next Spring. After that, who knows? Lots more books, I hope.

You can buy Annie's Lovely Choir by the sea here

You can follow Liz on Facebook here

or on Twitter here: @lizeelesauthor

Liz began her writing career as a journalist for newspapers and magazines before moving into the health sector as a communications manager and press officer. The low point of her career was abandoning an interview with Cliff Richard after two questions because she was about to faint – her excuse is that she was newly pregnant at the time.

Liz is from Gloucestershire but now lives by the sea in West Sussex with her husband and grown-up daughter. She spends a lot of time meaning to meditate, avoiding exercise, and missing her son who lives in London.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Like buses...

I was thinking the other day how good news in our writing world comes like buses. One day, there is no bus in sight (and you begin to imagine you'll be standing at that stop waiting for forever) and then the next minute two of more come along.

I had that feeling recently. I'd been working on my novel and had been subbing less magazine stories than usual during the previous months. Because of this, I hadn't had a sale for a while and my stories hadn't been appearing so frequently in the magazines. It was only to be expected but it made me sad nonetheless.

Had my stop become obsolete?

Were the buses favouring the stop round the corner with the new bus shelter and the shiny stop sign?

Then... just like those buses... good news came around the corner and pulled up at my bus stop. The driver waved two story sales at me and, just as I was preparing to leave that bus stop the following day, he waved two more!

"Oh, and you have two stories out this week," he said before pulling away.

And I did!


I'll try not to complain about having to wait for a bus again.

My story, 'On the Shore' and 'The Gift of Hope' can be found in this week's The People's Friend and The People's Friend Special.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Cornwall - that's all there is to say!

I am shamelessly starting my blog post this week with a picture of a Cornish cream tea because, in the space of seven days, I ate three... yes, three!

I have no excuse except that I was on holiday and, when on holiday, any ideas of eating sensibly go out of the window. Isn't that what holidays are all about?

I call it research. In the visitors' book, at the end of the stay, it's my duty to let future holidaymakers know which establishment has the fluffiest scones, the fruitiest jam and the stickiest clotted cream. It would be rude not to, wouldn't it?

How I can get away with the two pasties, the clotted cream ice cream and the packet of Cornish fudge, which I also ate during the course of my visit, I've yet to work out.

Seriously though, my holiday in the fishing village of Cadgwith Cove was a triumph. We stayed in a house on a hill looking over the bay and every morning we woke up to this view.

I could quite happily have stayed in bed and just looked out at the sea, or read a book, or written a story... but then I would have missed out on so much: the clifftop walks, the fishing villages, the gardens... the chance of bumping into Poldark.

Every day, we went on a long walk with Bonnie. Most of these walks were along the glorious South West Coastal path.

The weather was perfect and we were amazed by the profusion of wildflowers that were growing on the cliff top and in the hedgerows. May is definitely the time to visit this beautiful county.

It wasn't all about the walking though. Having not had a holiday in Cornwall since I was a child, and inspired by Poldark, I wanted to see as much of the area as possible. Cadgwith is on The Lizard and it was the perfect position to visit the many picturesque villages in the area: Mevagissey, Coverack, Lamorna. This is Mousehole. Pretty isn't it?

It wasn't just the seaside villages we visited, we also had a relaxing walk around the creeks of Helford. This is another area I can imagine coming back to. If it was good enough for Daphne Du Maurier...

During our week, we also visited two gardens: The Lost Gardens of Heligan and Trebah. It was difficult to choose our favourite.

Because we had Bonnie, we couldn't visit the Eden Project but no visit to the west of Cornwall would be complete without going to the Minack theatre. What a place! It's astonishing how one woman could have created something so outstanding... and how can sea in England be that colour! We felt as though we were back on one of our Greek islands.

We were very sad to leave at the end of the week. I'd like to say I got lots of writing done but I didn't. I didn't take a computer or even a notebook. I wanted to just soak up everything and enjoy it without having to think about how it could be translated into a story.

Having said that, on my way home, unbidden, an idea popped into my head.

Okay... it looks as though it's back to work for me.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

May - A Month of New Beginnings

Have I ever mentioned that I love May?

It's a month when flowers start to bloom in earnest, the woodlands are carpeted with bluebells and birdsong seems louder and sweeter.

I also love May because it's the month of new beginnings for me.

Thirteen years ago in May, my daughter (barely seventeen) gave birth to my first grandchild. Last week we celebrated his birthday. As he enters his teenage years, I marvel at what a fine young man he has become.

Seven years ago in May, I married my lovely husband - another new beginning and another very special one.

(This is me with my two grandsons at my wedding... how time flies!)

Five years ago in May, I wrote and sent off my first magazine story. A huge milestone. They didn't like that one... or the next two but the one after that was a hit. It was the beginning of my writing career.

None of these three events could have been predicted but they all changed my life for the better.

No wonder I love May.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Tell Me No Secrets - Guest Post Lynda Stacey

Today, I am delighted to welcome back to my blog, the talented author, Lynda Stacey. Her second novel, Tell Me No Secrets, was published by Choc Lit at the beginning of April and I wanted to find out a little more about her writing life and her new thriller. 

So let's begin.

You’ve met me in the elevator. Can you convince me to buy Tell Me No Secrets before we reach the ground floor?

Tell Me No Secrets is a story of lies and deceit. Nothing is as it seems and you soon realise that the people closest to you are not always those you can trust.  Nothing is as it seems, and in Kate Duggan’s case, the man she loves is the person she really should fear the most.

Tell Me No Secrets is your second novel. Did you find it easier or harder to write than your first?

Ha..ha… that’s a great question. But Tell Me No Secrets was actually the first novel I wrote. It had had a working title of Broken Jigsaw and in 2013 had been shortlisted for the Festival of Romance New Talent Award. It didn’t win, but being shortlisted gave me the confidence to keep going, to do all the re-writes, and the plot changes.

How long did it take you to write?

All in all, it took around two years. As I said earlier, this was the first thing I’d ever written and if I’m perfectly honest it started out as a very different book, the original book was about child smuggling and Kate Duggan was the detective looking into it. However, it quickly became apparent that Kate Duggan as a character stood out and that it should be her story…. and so the re-writes began and the new plot emerged.

When you write a character do you have an image of a real-life person in your head?

Oh absolutely. I could literally go and knock on their doors and fully expect them to answer.

What was the hardest scene to write?

The most difficult scene for me was where Rob attacked her. As a young 20-year-old, I’d personally suffered from domestic abuse, my first husband put me in hospital on more than one occasion and while writing the scene, I distinctly remember holding my breath and having to force myself to take on air.

Can you describe a typical writing day?

Sporadic… this is the only word that fits. I work full time as a Sales Director for a stationery and office supplies company. This means that my hours are long and can be stressful. It therefore depends on my frame of mind in the evenings as to whether I write or not. I tend to get the laptop on my knee and tap away while the hubby is watching television, much to his delight because that means he can slip the footy on while I’m not concentrating.

How much research did you have to do for the novel?

I spent time with a private investigator and with ex-drugs squad police officer and author, Michael Fowler. He gave me a lot of tips on how the vans would be used, what would be in them and what drugs would be bought and sold in this way. I also spent some time in Bedale, Whitby and at Richmond Castle, all of these places are scenes within the book.
Of course at each of these locations I took my research seriously and had ‘fish and chips’ and a boat ride in Whitby, ‘Cream tea’ in Bedale and I tried the local ‘mead’ at Richmond  castle.
All in the name of research… of course!!

Are you a planner or a pantster?

Most definitely a pantster, my characters develop naturally, which means that I haven’t got a clue what they might do next.  I know where I want my novel to begin, where it should end and who should fall in love with who, but other than that, I just work my way through it, scene by scene.
I don’t plan anything, unless it’s a holiday of course and then I have a spread sheet for everything.

What’s next for Lynda Stacey?

I already have a contract with Choc Lit for Twisted Secrets, my 3rd Novel. And I’m currently writing a sequel for ‘House of Secrets’, which has a working title of ‘House of Christmas Secrets’. I wasn’t planning a sequel, but I keep getting asked for one, so I decided to give it a go.

Thank you so much for visiting again, Lynda and I wish you lots of success with Tell Me No Secrets.

Lynda grew up in the mining village of Bentley, Doncaster, in South Yorkshire,
Her own chaotic life story, along with varied career choices helps Lynda to create stories of romantic suspense, with challenging and unpredictable plots, along with (as in all romances) very happy endings.
Lynda joined the Romantic Novelist Association in 2014 under the umbrella of the New Writers Scheme and in 2015, her debut novel House of Secrets won the Choc Lit & Whole Story Audiobooks Search for a Star competition.
She lives in a small rural hamlet near Doncaster, with her husband, Haydn, to whom she’s been happily married for over 20 years.

Here's how you can get in touch with Lynda:


Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Just Wanna Dance the Night Away

The photograph above was taken, this morning, on a beautiful walk around the estuary on Hayling Island. It looks serene, calm, quiet and you would be forgiven if you thought that this was a reflection of our weekend break.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

In actual fact, we were at Warners Lakeside Holiday Village for our annual Jive Time Riot Weekend. We arrived on Friday evening and came home this morning (Monday) and now, after three evening dances and two full days of dance classes, I'm ready for a week of sleep!

We've been going to the dance weekender in Hayling Island for the last six years and pretty much know the ropes. The food is great (can you believe I ate from the carvery all three evenings) and the chalets, although a bit 'hi-di-hi' are perfectly adequate for what we want. Sadly though, it's the end of an era as the huge indoor bowling hall that serves as our dance room is being demolished and so this year was to be the last one at this venue. We could, of course, go to the new venue next year but we feel that maybe this is the time to give it a break.

These are the some of the workshops we attended: tango jive, advanced jive, retro jive,double trouble, Madison Stroll, fast jive and West Coast Swing.

This is a picture of Seamus and Jane teaching the tango jive class.

The weekender was also a good excuse to buy some new dance shoes (Please don't ask how many I have now!) Luckily, while I was away, I sold a story to Take a Break Fiction Feast which paid for them. Actually I could have bought two pairs.

While we are away, we always try to go for a walk, otherwise we're stuck inside all day. As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, we grabbed an hour to walk by the waterside. The weather was perfect.

Now it's back to work on the novel and I'm hoping to manage a magazine story too this week... that's if I can stay awake!